The Hidden Costs of Avoiding Risk
Every choice you make means turning your back on the possible benefits you might have derived from making a different choice. It’s what economists call opportunity cost
. If you invest in option X, you cannot invest those same funds in option Y. Businesses grapple with such decisions every day but you do too.
The risks of playing it too safe
We often look at risk-taking in comparison to an alternative we see as “safe.” But there is significant downside to playing it too safe. From an investment standpoint, if you’re too risk averse, your gains won’t even keep pace with inflation. From a professional lens, being unwilling to stick your neck out can leave you undervalued and stuck in a role you outgrew years ago. The opportunity cost of laying low lives in the missed chances for learning, growth and professional development.
In her book Stop Playing Safe
, psychologist, certified coach and host of the Live Brave podcast, Margie Warrell, Ph.D., says most people are held back in the workplace by a fear of making mistakes, perhaps women even more so than men. But, when calculating your tolerance for risk, it’s important to consider the risks of being overly cautious as well. Those include the risk of not being seen and heard, not having your contributions recognized, not being considered for the next big assignment or promotion, and feeling stymied, frustrated and bored.
“We are wired for safety and the pandemic has only magnified our sensitivity to risk and fueled our cautiousness,” Warrell says. “But it’s why right now, as the opportunities that are always borne of disruption really open up, that we need to recalibrate risk and commit to taking braver action amid the unknowns.”
The upside of risk
You can explore the benefits of risk-taking, and the downsides of “safe” choices, at the Third Thursday WFF Exchange Network
, Risk Taking: Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone
, December 16 from Noon-1 p.m. CT. WFF’s monthly Exchange Networks connect you with inspiring peers and role models in powerful virtual events that include live moderated Q&A with a top industry leader on Zoom followed by focused networking in small breakout groups hosted via Mixtoz.
The courage to act
“Until we are willing to put ourselves out there and take a risk, we will never be able to achieve professional success and achieve our potential,” Warrell advises. She and others offer these tips for gathering your courage and taking some well-calculated risks.
- Be seen and heard. When we fear making mistakes or saying the wrong thing, a common choice is to lay low and let others take the lead. Viewing that choice from your supervisor’s side can help you see the real dangers involved. Your behavior and actions (or inaction) are still being observed and judged even when you choose silence. When you sit in a meeting and don’t contribute, you are sending at least as large of a message as speaking up to share well-prepared insights. Seeing the risk of not contributing can help you summon the courage to speak up.
- Ask questions and challenge assumptions. Of course, you must be well-informed and knowledgeable about your field and your organization. From there, however, asking targeted questions and admitting when you don’t know something or need support is one of the best ways to move forward and grow. The same is true for respectfully challenging the status quo. If everyone assumes something has to be done the way it’s always been done, offer to explore other options and return with new ideas.
- Embrace authenticity. Blending in might feel comfortable in the moment but it can become suffocating and is a surefire way to go unnoticed and unrewarded. You have unique gifts, skillsets and characteristics. Embrace them and you will likely not only find the journey more satisfying, but will also be able to stand out in ways that are crucial to advancing your career.
- Risk imperfection. No one has all the answers or knows how a certain course of action will turn out. But it’s clear that not acting, changing, growing and trying new approaches makes organizations obsolete in a rapidly changing business environment. “In a world where change is happening fast and the windows of opportunity are limited, indecision can be costly,” Warrell writes. Do your homework, commit to reasonable action and then aggressively pursue feedback that will help you modify your course.
Learning how to embrace purposeful risk-taking is one of the greatest skills you can master to accelerate professional advancement. Make a bold move now to REGISTER
for the next WFF Exchange Network, Risk Taking: Getting Out of Your Comfort Zone, December 16 from Noon-1 p.m. CT/1-2:30 p.m. ET.